Understanding Yourself


Understanding Yourself

5 minute read | By Garry Crosby | Building New Skills, Soft Skills | Published: 23/11/2023


To Become a World-Class Executive, Start by Looking in the Mirror

I’m at 35,000ft, 50 miles south of the border, watching 300 aircraft manoeuvre into position before launching an attack. I’ve read the orders, memorised the tactical plan and mapped out the potential threats.

I look across at my colleague, who is clasping a photo of his wife and children in his hands.

He looks scared. I lean over to him and say, ‘Eyes on, get ready, this is all going to kick off in 10 minutes.’ The military is not well-known for fostering self-awareness, improving emotional intelligence or looking in the mirror, so I wasn’t really helping the guy at all. Our focus on getting the job done was all-encompassing. Back then, I didn’t know much about myself, but 20 years on, the importance of self-awareness is crystal clear.

Through my coaching, I’ve noticed that becoming a world-class executive is a journey of continuous learning and self-improvement. Of course, you’ll need technical skills and strategic acumen to get on, but the core of effective leadership starts inside you.

Understanding yourself is the foundation upon which all other executive competencies are built – that’s why it’s the first module in my ‘Become and World-Class Executive’ programme. In this blog, I want to explore how self-awareness, emotional intelligence, feedback, and self-reflection shape the transformative path of an aspiring world-class executive.

The Power of Increased Self-Awareness

In business, I believe self-awareness is the catalyst for growth. It’s about recognising your strengths, limitations, and the filters through which you view the world.

The executives I’ve coached who develop high levels of self-awareness navigate complex organisational dynamics with finesse, making decisions that are not only informed by data but are also attuned to the subtle interpersonal nuances of their team.

But how do you harness this power? I’ve learned that it begins with the willingness to be introspective and the courage to confront your vulnerabilities. Many executives utilise tools like personality assessments, journaling, and mindfulness practices to unearth the layers of their professional persona.

For you, deepening your self-awareness will allow you to cultivate the agility to adapt your leadership style to various situations, ensuring you are not just effective, but also inspirational.

Develop Your Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the silent language of leadership. It’s about more than just managing your own emotions; it’s about empathising with others, understanding their motivations, and communicating with clarity and intention.

High EQ is marked by a leader’s ability to read the room, connect with their colleagues on a human level, and inspire loyalty and motivation. The executives with high EQ that I’ve coached very deliberately took steps to understand the subject and practice its principles.

To enhance your EQ, start by focusing on active listening—really hear what your colleagues are saying, both verbally and non-verbally. Embrace the concept that leadership is not about being in charge but about taking care of those in your charge.

When you invest in building trust and respect, you lay the groundwork for a cohesive and high-performing team.

Seek Feedback from People You Trust

Feedback is the mirror reflecting your professional image from the perspective of others. It’s an invaluable source of insight for executives aiming for world-class status.

To grow, you must be willing to ask for, receive, and act upon feedback—especially when it’s uncomfortable.

Identify mentors, peers, or coaches who understand you and are willing to provide honest feedback. Cultivate a culture where feedback is seen as a gift (or ‘the breakfast of champions’ someone once said to me), one that helps you align your intentions with your impact. Through this process, you will be able to fine-tune your approach, correct course when necessary, and accelerate your development as a world-class executive.

Learn How to Look in the Mirror

The metaphorical mirror represents the practice of self-reflection—a quiet space where you are alone with your thoughts and accountable only to yourself. Regular self-reflection is a habit of all successful executives. It provides a platform for critical thinking about your leadership decisions, behaviours, and their outcomes.

Make it a routine to step back from the day-to-day and assess your performance. What went well? What could have gone better? How did your actions align with your core values and the mission of your organisation?

Use these reflections to inform your personal learning development plan, committing to actionable steps that will accelerate your journey to becoming a world-class executive.

To finish off, let me call this a fact: the path to executive excellence is as much about mastering the inner game as it is about external strategy and tactics.

You can wander through life on auto, self-absorbed and ignorant of the world around you. Or, you can draw a pathway to success.

By increasing self-awareness, developing emotional intelligence, seeking and acting on feedback, and embracing regular self-reflection, you can cultivate the leadership qualities necessary to thrive at the highest levels.

Understanding yourself is the first step in understanding how to lead others effectively.